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Take a Ride with Alan Shepard Aboard Freedom 7

On this day in 1961, May the 5th at 9:34 a.m. Eastern time, NASA astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American to travel into space with the launch of his Freedom 7 vehicle atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Shepard reached an altitude of 116.5 miles during his 15-minute suborbital flight before splashing down in the Atlantic, setting the stage for the first orbital spaceflight by John Glenn on Feb. 20 of the next year and all future Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo lunar missions (the 14th of which Shepard was commander in 1971.)

Liftoff of the 82-foot-tall Mercury-Redstone with Freedom 7 from Cape Canaveral on May 5, 1961. (NASA)

The video above from YouTube user lunarmodule5 shows Shepard’s historic flight from liftoff to splashdown with views from the pad as well as from inside the Freedom 7 capsule, showing film footage of Shepard and renderings of the capsule in position followed by photographs from splashdown and recovery.

The date of this important event is not coincidentally shared with the newly-dedicated National Astronaut Day, which celebrates America’s brave spacefaring heroes.

Want to learn more about the inimitable Al Shepard? Check out Neal Thompson’s excellent biography Light This Candle — read my review here.

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NOAA’s Newest Satellite Sends Its First Pictures of Earth…and the Moon!

GOES-16 image of the Moon beyond Earth's limb taken Jan. 15. GOES-16 uses the Moon for calibration purposes. (NASA/NOAA)

GOES-16 image of the Moon beyond Earth’s limb taken Jan. 15. GOES-16 uses the Moon for calibration purposes. (NASA/NOAA)

America’s newest next-generation Earth observing weather satellite, NOAA’s GOES-16, has returned its first high-definition images of Earth—one of which even includes the Moon!

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First Flight of the Lunar Module, 49 Years Ago Today

Liftoff of the Apollo 5 Saturn IB on Jan. 22, 1968.

Liftoff of the Apollo 5 Saturn IB on Jan. 22, 1968. (NASA/JSC)

49 years ago today, at 5:48 p.m. on Jan. 22, 1968, a stocky Saturn IB roared into the sky from Pad 37B at Kennedy Space Center taking the Lunar Module on its first flight into space. The uncrewed Apollo 5 mission would put LM-1 through a series of tests in low-Earth orbit, making sure that the vehicle was ready to carry America’s astronauts to the Moon, deliver them to its rugged surface, and bring them back safely.

Watch a video from NASA’s Johnson Space Center below showing details of the Apollo 5 mission, including the launch:

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NASA Readies OSIRIS-REx to Visit an Asteroid

Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx (NASA/Goddard)

Artist’s concept of OSIRIS-REx (NASA/Goddard)

NASA is about to embark on its first mission to sample an asteroid—and I’ll have a front-row seat to the launch!

On Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7:05 p.m. (23:05 UTC) the launch window opens for the launch of OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s mission to visit the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, orbit and map it, collect a sample and return it to Earth. The 8-foot-wide, 20-foot-long spacecraft will launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS and as a member of the latest NASA Social event I and 99 other attendees will be at the Cape to see it off on its 7-year journey. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see pictures and videos from the two-day event on Sept. 7–8, and follow the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter too!

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Juno Just Hours from Jupiter Arrival

Juno will reach Jupiter in 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

Juno is on its way to enter orbit at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

After nearly 5 years of traveling through space NASA’s Juno spacecraft is just a few dozen hours away from entering orbit around Jupiter, the Solar System’s largest, most massive, and most extreme planet.

“We are ready,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “The science team is incredibly excited to be arriving at Jupiter. The engineers and mission controllers are performing at an Olympic level getting Juno successfully into orbit. As Juno barrels down on Jupiter, the scientists are busy looking at the amazing approach science the spacecraft has already returned to Earth. Jupiter is spectacular from afar and will be absolutely breathtaking from close up.”

Learn more about the mission and find out how to watch the long-awaited event live below:

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